In August, Forbes magazine published "Age Vs. Youth", purporting to advise on how older and younger workers can get along in the workplace. The story could not be more demeaning in its assumptions about older workers if the writer had intended it to be so. Every one of them – there are many – is either wrong or perpetuates ageist stereotypes.
Let’s deconstruct a few.
1. “Older workers may feel threatened by their younger...counterparts who have up-to-the-minute skills.”
Who says the skills of older workers aren’t current? That sweeping generalization is unacceptable. There is no reason a 25-year old has any better skills than a 50- or 60-year-old and a good case can be made that older workers, having reason to be aware of age discrimination that younger folks haven’t faced yet, have made more effort to be up to date. This is a tired, false, old prejudice that needs to be buried.
2. “Workers in their 50s are often turned down for jobs because they’re too expensive – not because they’re too old.”
That is true in many cases, but is another misconception. Too expensive by what measure? Every study shows that older workers know more, take fewer sick days, are more reliable, punctual and make fewer mistakes than younger workers. There are also studies that show them to be more creative. They deserve higher pay for their greater knowledge and will reward the company by increasing revenue with their better work habits and fewer mistakes.
3. “Older workers who want to be treated well should ask about promotions and where their career is going. This tells the boss, ‘I’m committed and I plan to stay here.’”
The implication in this statement is factually incorrect and could be written only by someone who hasn’t taken his own advice to stay up to date - in this case, with current research. It is younger workers, not older ones, who hop from job to job. Older workers who have families, mortgages and kids to put through college, or are paying off those debts and saving for retirement (which is likely to be forced because of age) are far more stable.
4. “Older workers should be willing to break the stereotype and take on new challenges in new places…Think of new applications for your proven skills.”
This one is embarrassing. It is not older people who create stereotypes of themselves; it is younger ones. Older workers have been taking on new challenges all their lives and are expert now at adjusting and adapting to new situations in a workplace that changes these days with the speed of light.
Appended to this story is a list of seven tips for avoiding clashes between young and old at work. In an almost perfect example of unintended irony, the first one is: Don’t Make Assumptions.
This piece is ageist to its core, perpetuating the stereotypes it pretends to oppose. And if you don't think that's true, reread the assumptions above applying the TGB Bias Test: replace references to older workers with "African-Americans" and see if you think this story, in that instance, could have gotten past the editor's desk.